Sunday, April 22, 2012

What is the Loch Ness Monster?

Recently, I have developed an interest in cryptozoology. In case you don't know, cryptozoology means "the study of hidden animals". In other words, it is the study of cryptids. One of the most famous cryptids is the Loch Ness Monster. Along with the Yeti and the Sasquatch, Nessie is one of the "Big 3" cryptids, i.e., the most famous cryptids.

Ever since it was first sighted, people have always wondered what the Loch Ness Monster might possibly be. The suggestions range, very drastically. On the one hand, we have the skeptics who say that the sightings are easily explained by pieces of driftwood, misidentifications of common animals, seiches, etc. On the other hand, we have the paranormal enthusiasts who say that the Monster might be a ghost, or an alien, or even a shape-shifter from the Delta Quadrant (yeah, I know I just made a Star Trek reference, but whatever). However, in this blog post, I am only going to discuss the theories that describe the Loch Ness Monster as being an actual animal.

Perhaps the most popular theory is that Nessie is a surviving Plesiosaur. Plesiosaurs were a group of marine reptiles, that lived during the Mesozoic Era. In 1933, in a newspaper report of a sighting, it was claimed that the Monster "bore a striking resemblence to the supposedly-extinct plesiosaur". Afterwards, this theory became, by far, the most popular explanation for the monster.
Another theory is that it is a giant eel. A quick examination of this theory, however, shows that it isn't very likely. This is because most sightings of the monster describe it as undulating its body, up and down, in order to swim. Meanwhile, eels swim from side-to-side, like most other fish.

Another hypothesis is that the monster is a species of gigantic, long-necked amphibian. Loch Ness Monster researcher R.T. Gould suggested that the monster could be something like a long-necked newt. In his 1976 book The Monsters of Loch Ness, Dr. Roy P. Mackal came to the conclusion that Nessie is most likely to be a surviving embolomer, which was a giant prehistoric amphibian, from the Carboniferous Period.

Perhaps the most likely candidate for the Loch Ness Monster, in my opinion, is an unknown species of long-necked, long-tailed pinniped. In 1892, in his book The Great Sea Serpent, the Dutch naturalist Anthonie Cornelis Oudemans first described a hypothetical new species of long-necked pinniped, in order to account for sightings of sea serpents, which he called Megophias megophias.

Therefore, I have now come to the conclusion that an unknown species of pinniped, similar to Oudemans's Megophias megophias, would be the best possible identity, for the Loch Ness Monster.


In the future, I am going to write a few more posts, about Nessie and her kin, so hang in there! ;)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fuzzy Tyrannosaurs!

The Chinese palaeontologist Xu Xing and colleagues recently described a very interesting new species of tyrannosauroid. The fossils were recovered from China's Yixian Formation, which dates from the early Aptian stage, of the Early Cretaceous Period. They named it Yutyrannus huali. It is the first tyrannosaur species described in 2012. It was classified as a basal member of the Tyrannosauroidea, being more derived than the likes of Dilong, Guanlong, and Sinotyrannus, but more basal than Eotyrannus. It was much larger than other basal tyrannosauroids, being about 9 meters (30 feet) long, and weighing up to 1,414 kilograms (3,120 pounds).

The most interesting aspect of this incredible creature, however, is not its size, but something completely different. Fossilized impressions of primitive feather-like structures were found around the fossil of the creature's body.  The feathers were around 20 centimeters long, and they were filamentous. The feathers of Yutyrannus covered various parts of its body, including the pelvis, and the foot.

But, perhaps even more amazing is the fact that this newly-discovered dinosaur is a record-breaker; It is the largest known animal in history of which we have direct evidence that it had feathers. This record was previously held by the basal therizinosauroid Beipiaosaurus inexpectus, which was described in 1999.

This startling new find also has major implications, when it comes to how artists draw life reconstructions, of large tyrannosaurs. In my opinion, the discovery that Yutyrannus huali had feathers is a major piece of evidence that large, derived Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurids, such as Daspletosaurus torosus, Albertosaurus sarcophagus, Gorgosaurus libratus, Tarbosaurus bataar, and, yes, the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex, might have retained a feather coating, even as adults. However, as of now, all of this is just interesting speculation, and we have no way of knowing, for sure, if any of this stuff is true, or not.

However, one thing, we do know, for sure; The discovery of Yutyrannus proves that good ol' T. rex was actually much more similar to a chicken, than we had previously thought!